Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Hampshire College activist says:

Dodging the divestment issue will NOT help your image with Palestine human rights supporters.

"Divestment from Israeli occupation:
"Hampshire College leads the way"

Published Feb 23, 2009, 10:25 PM

On the Web at:


On Feb. 7, Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) won a significant victory at Hampshire College in Massachusetts when the administration announced it would divest from six companies that directly profit from the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza.

Over 800 students, professors and alumni signed SJP’s “institutional statement” calling for the divestment. After an intense two-year campaign by the student movement, Hampshire became the first college in the United States to divest from the Israeli occupation of Palestine.

The six corporations that Hampshire divested from provide the Israeli military with equipment and services in the Occupied West Bank and Gaza. They are Caterpillar, United Technologies, General Electric, ITT Corporation, Motorola and Terex.

SJP carried out this campaign in response to a call from Palestinians to boycott, divest and sanction as a way of bringing pressure on the state of Israel to end its violations of international law. So far they have gotten support from many groups and prominent individuals who have endorsed their institutional statement. Among the endorsers are Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn, Desmond Tutu, Rashid Khalidi, vice president of the EU Parliament Luisa Morgantini, former member of Congress from Georgia Cynthia McKinney, Ronnie Kasrils, Israeli historian Ilan Pappe, John Berger, Nobel Peace Laureate Mairead Maguire, author Leslie Feinberg and Roger Waters of Pink Floyd.

In 1979 Hampshire paved the way for divestment campaigns across the country as the first school in the country to divest from apartheid South Africa. Now it is the first to divest from the occupation of Palestine.

The students in SJP not only pressured Hampshire to divest from companies directly linked to the Israeli occupation, they also opened up an issue that has too often been silenced in the U.S. Their actions will hopefully spread to other schools of higher education throughout the U.S.

Shortly after the school divested, school President Ralph Hexter and the head of the board of trustees put out a statement saying the divestment had nothing to do with the political situation in the region. They claimed the school divested because the six particular companies violated Hampshire’s responsible investing policy. The administration’s attempt to depoliticize this act of divestment is completely transparent.

Distancing themselves from the radical notion of divesting from the Israeli occupation can only do them harm when building new bridges to groups supportive of Palestine, and it will not redeem them in the eyes of the Zionist movement. This is evident from the reaction of Harvard University professor Allan Dershowitz, who threatened to boycott Hampshire College shortly after the divestment statement was released to the press even after Hexter made his distancing statement.

Taking a stance against Israel has never been easy in the U.S. due to the vast amount of support given to the Israeli military by the U.S. government. However, despite the resistance from the administration and parts of the media, this brave act by Hampshire College was met with broad support from campus groups, parents of students and endorsers, who have voiced nothing but positive reinforcement for the divestment.

As a student at Hampshire College and as a member of SJP who has worked for the last two years on this campaign, I hope this small act in our small school will have an impact on other student groups. It shows that resistance and organizing will work and that students can effect change in their schools. I also hope this divestment from Israel’s brutal and illegal occupation of Palestine will voice solidarity with the Palestinian people and bring us one step closer to ending the occupation.

The writer is a Fight Imperialism, Stand Together (FIST) organizer.